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GRAMOPHONE (07/2022)
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Reviewer :
William Yeoman

Jonas Nordberg writes in a brief booklet note of ‘the rich mix of melancholy, joy and beauty’ that is John Dowland’s music. If contemporary accounts are to be trusted, this could not be said of the man himself. He seems to have been a bit of a grumpy sod, and his own worst enemy when it came to furthering his own interests at the court of Elizabeth I.

But the music sings Dowland’s soul, and is therefore a more trustworthy document. This beautiful recital is a portrait of the whole man. Indeed, such is Nordberg’s propensity to illuminate even the darkest regions of Dowland’s music with spry ornaments and crisply articulated figures that his recording makes a perfect counterpoint to Bor Zuljan’s relentlessly melancholic ‘A Fancy’ (Ricercar, 10/20).

So yes, Nordberg’s take on one of Dowland’s major-mode fancies exhibits a cheerful resignation, the small-scale drama of the closing measures hinting at its minor-key sister a few pieces on. But the famous Lachrimae (‘Flow, my tears’) and its attendant galliard with which the recital ends embrace the winking performative nature of the Elizabethan melancholic moment. There’s an archness, a theatricality, that lifts the mask of Janus to reveal … well, you’ll have to listen for yourself.

Nordberg plays a gut-strung nine-course lute by Lars Jönsson after Tieffenbrucker. It’s a warm, characterful instrument, serving him equally well in slow intricate fancies and quicker ternary song and dance forms. Regarding the playing itself, from an earlier generation Paul O’Dette’s Dowland comes most readily to mind. But Nordberg is more willing to dispel the darkness. Though not without a lingering farewell kiss.

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